Is Content Curation The New Black?

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Content is king…right?

If you want attention, a platform, the ability to lead, sway, sell, move, emote, promote, you need to be putting out killer stuff.

But, there’s a major wrinkle in the theory that pretty much nobody talks about, even though it’s become one of the most powerful content models on the planet.

The content…doesn’t have to be yours!

We are assaulted and battered by so much content, from every direction, that 99% of the time, we don’t know where to look first. We don’t know what’s critical or what’s crap.

There’s so much coming at us so quickly that if we undertook to read just the first few sentences of everything in an effort to decide whether it was worth it to read the rest, that alone would take us from morning to night.

Enter the Master of Curation…

One of the single most valuable roles you can play in this cataclysmic cacaphony of content is to be the one who lends sanity to the process of finding and sharing only the cream of the crop.

That’s why many of the world’s top websites and blogs are largely curation-based.

Lifehacker.com is a great example. There’s a smattering of their own stuff, a more substantial article mixed in here and there. But it’s largely about curating the need-to-know info in the world of, well, life and tech hacks.

And, according to their advertising info-page, they get 4.4 million visitors and 43 million pageviews a month…curating other peoples’ stuff.

Hell, that’s almost as much traffic as I get (wink, wink, nod, nod)!

Other sites crushing it under a similar model include:

On my own blog, some of my most trafficked and best ranked posts in the SERPS are not my original content, but rather curated one-offs and collections, like:

Why? Because I spent a lot of time sourcing, reviewing, vetting and assembling the most valuable content so that others wouldn’t have to. And, because I’ve done it repeatedly, people have come to trust my ability to do it well.

So, as you’re thinking about how you can best serve your tribe and deliver the coolest content experience possible, think beyond creation and consider mixing in curation.

It’s a powerful ingredient to add to your content cake.

But, before you start curating your way to fame and fortune, there’s one more secret to great digital curation. You can’t just re-post something.

You’ve got to add value and relevance beyond the original content.

It might be by assembling disparate pieces into a coherent collection. Or, it can be as easy as adding commentary, context, cliff-notes or highlights. My last post on J.K. Rowling;s Harvard commencement speech on failure and imagination is an example of adding value in the form of context (tie-in with New Years energy) and highlights (pull-quotes below).

So, have you put this strategy to work? And, if not, how might you?

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46 responses

46 responses to “Is Content Curation The New Black?”

  1. Mars Dorian says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    that’s an interesting model, and it can be valuable to share someone else’s stuff IF it’s super-valuable and if you’re putting your OWN touch on it. But I believe it’s still WAY better to go for your own stuff MOST of them time – using other content continously makes you just a reporter instead of an original content creator. Your ideas, your take. That’s why people like Chris Guillebeau and Gary Vaynerchuk rock so hard – it’s all about them and their experiences !

    • Farnoosh says:

      Original content all the way. I am totally with you, Mars. I really think recycled content just doesn’t say authentic or original or fresh….

      • Contrarian says:

        Farnoosh and Mars –

        I wholeheartedly agree with both of you … original, unique, and inspired content offers the most value to its readership.

        I’ll add something else here …

        The culprits responsible for the biggest mess and traffic jam on the information super highway is the “cataclysmic cacaphony of content” from blogger’s who’s major (or only) focus and motivation is attracting subscribers. There is so damn much noise on the latest SEO tips, subscriber-building gimmickry, and blogging trickery, it is no wonder we can’t find the good stuff worth reading.

        Present company excluded (Jonathan I enjoy your site) I ask … where are the altruistic voices with a meaningful message to share that are willing to create profound content for it’s own sake? Where are the writers and poets who create NOT for profit/tribe building but for passion?

        No doubt it will take the stand alone pure-play quality content creators longer to build a large and meaningful subscriber base than those focused on SEO, aggregation, regurgitation and recycling others schlep.

        But in the end, those whose only focus is on providing a valuable service to the folks by creating worthwhile, honorable, and meritorious original content will be the only blogs that stand out in the crowd, and will likely be the that last ones standing when the blogging bubble busts.

        • Farnoosh says:

          Contrarian (is that a first name),
          I know that those writers, creators, thinkers and bloggers exist because I read them every day so you just have to find them. They write with passion, they pursue their own agenda and it is to write and to express and to get out a message,and as a result, they attract a huge audience. If these people did not exist, I am not sure I would be in the blogosphere very long :)!

        • Contrarian, thank you! The writers and poets who blog for passion, not profit, are a minority outshouted by the tribe builders—for now. Every time yet another SEO/marketing blog spews tips to drive traffic, I feel a burp coming on from last night’s leftover mystery casserole of curated content. Empty calories, hollow brain.

          I really just want to observe real life quietly and quirkily on my blog, and if it connects with one reader a day who reads it mindfully and can relate, I did my job. I’ve been so disturbed by all the noise that I wrote “6 reasons why my blog doesn’t give advice…and 3 reasons why it doesn’t go for gimmicks” as my New Year’s Day 2011 post. It will guide me through the rest of this year’s posts.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Grant Griffiths, Alan Howarth and others. Alan Howarth said: @GrantGriffiths @jonathanfieldsIs Content Curation Is The New Black? http://bit.ly/f6aFIy hmmm didn't that used to called EDITING? […]

  3. Alan Howarth says:

    Content Curation, I still call it editing, and yes well editied/curated comments are more accessible, however they can also take on a POV that distorts the original content. Everyone edits/curates fromtheir own POV, I’m not suggesting malicious distortion.
    Alan Howarth

  4. Matthew says:

    I haven’t been putting this strategy to work thus far, but for my upcoming site I will be.

    My current site is a blog, and it includes me writing new content every few days. My upcoming site will still include me writing new content, but much of it will compilations of others’ advice. Instead of coming up with topics of my own, I will find a topic and cull through existing information and presenting the best in an easy-to-understand format.

    Of course, I will still be creating new content as well, but not as the primary strategy.

  5. Boy Jonathan, I hope you’re wrong! I agree that content curation works (sometimes) on Spin Sucks, but only because we’ve built a strong community of engaged readers who come there for our original thought, not for the content we’ve been able to curate. I did some curation last week, during the holidays, and it had pretty good response, but nothing like when we write something that is original and unique.

    There is so much in the echo chamber I feel like it’d be a darn shame if all we do is curate and no one has unique thoughts any longer. But perhaps you’re right and then those of us that do write something original will stand out even more.

    Hmmmm….

  6. Venkat says:

    I’d be curious to know how much time some of these sites spend on their efforts (Brain Picker – spends 50+ hours, as does TweetSmarter – two people in fairly different realms).

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gini Dietrich. Gini Dietrich said: What do you think? RT @jonathanfields Is Content Curation Is The New Black? http://j.mp/h4IylF […]

  8. Les McKeown says:

    Two separate things, I guess – content creation and content curation. I know which one needs the other most.

    Personally, I’m feeling over-served by wannabe curators and almost always click away when I find myself sent to a curation-only site (don’t like the rabbit-hole effect, I guess), and instead try to make my RSS reader my very own content curation device.

  9. Bill Boyd says:

    I’m all for original content. Without it, there’d be nothing to curate. But I don’t have time to read even a fraction of the good stuff being generated these days. That’s why I find trustworthy curation a must. As Jonathan points out, I don’t want to spend my precious reading time figuring out if something is worth my while (and, frankly, a lot of it is not). Jonathan creates read-worthy material of his own AND renders a service by curating content from elsewhere. And it’s free. All I can say is ‘thanks’!

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    So, as you guys already know, I’m mostly about original content, too.

    But, here’s the point. It’s important not to discount the model based on your own content consumption preferences.

    The success of blogs like Lifehacker and others speak very loudly to the notion that there is a huge audience out there that places very high value on curation that’s WELL DONE.

    The proof lies in the success of those communities.

    4.4 million visitors and 43 million pageviews a month doesn’t lie.

    So, it may not be for you personally, but if you’re looking to build not only a community, but what my friend Brian Clark calls an attention asset, it’s really important to look past your own preferences and at least ask the question.

    For you and your audience, kick-ass original content might not resonate more strongly. BUT, for other tribes with different interests, goals and desires, killer curation may be perceived as having tremendous value.

    The challenge is always to stay open to matching the model to both you and your market.

    Last thought, even though almost all of my content is original and it’ll stay that way, my small selection of curated posts tend to be the ones that have generated the most sharing, inbound links, increase in subscriptions and organic traffic. Something I never really expected to happen, but it did.

    • Mark Silver says:

      Jonathan- your reply is one reason I finally started curating- firing up Google reader, and dishing out the stuff I know is good to my twitter stream. Now to start doing it on the blog. it took me a long time to get this- and you’re so dead on.

      • Les McKeown says:

        Fair point, both of you – I have no problem with curation on Twitter, funny enough – and you’re right, Jonathan, my dislike of 100% curation sites is most definitely a personal preference, not a dig at what is for many clearly a successful business model.

        I would distinguish between a 100% ‘curated’ site and people like both of you who I view as ‘trusted referrers’ – anything you throw up, I’ll take a look at. On the other hand, I’ve often unsubscribed to a blog when I’ve felt that the ‘trust’ part has been abused by so-called curation that has too often been the promotion of crud (or playing favorites with mates’ stuff, irrespective of its quality). Not likely to ever happen here or at Heart of Biz, thank god.

        • Jonathan — we were posting at the same time & going similar directions 🙂

          Agree with you & Les, that trust flowing from readers is key factor.

          Appreciate your insights on not assuming that your preference is the preference of your readers (you experienced this surprise when it wasn’t) — it’s about giving our community what they want. As Mark did, listen to and respond to them.

          Your challenge to stay open to new ways is a good one to take to heart in the new year. Thanks for getting my wheels turning this morning.

    • I completely agree, Jonathan. So many people out there can benefit from having a trusted source cull through the content on the web and elevate the best content to share with their networks.

      I’m using Twitter lists this way – there is really one main list that I follow 90% of the time and I know that I’m getting some really kick ass content with very little fluff when I am scanning through the stream. I look at it as a personal curation stream of awesome content.

      You nailed it when you mentioned that on blogs/sites the model can’t simply be regurgitated content with no added value. Providing context on WHY the content is important and your personal take on it can be just as valuable *to the readers* as an original piece.

      As with most things, it’s all in the balance, and I think you’ve struck an excellent balance with your blog. Well done, J.

  11. It’s a noisy world. The value of curating is having some source readers trust help cut through the noise and say, “this is good stuff – take a look.”

    Curation or original content, the bottom line is producing something of value that helps people see things in a different way and make real change to improve their life.

    My two cents… collaboration is where it’s at. People coming together to produce fresh content under one roof, bringing together for readers the convenience of curation with the value of King Content.

  12. marie-jeanne says:

    Yes, absolutely, it’s a noisy world out there. As a former “traditional” business journalist for years, much of my approach to the internet “Wild West” is still to find and filter the best stuff. Feedback I get is that it’s incredibly valuable to the right market. Now the question is what’s the monetization model? Ads or some arrangement of affiliate? Downsides to both: the 1st takes a while to build. The second take the edge off objectivity.

    Jonathan, have you seen any sites that you think are doing a good job with the second model? Or yet some other biz model options that you prefer?

    Marie-Jeanne

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Great observation and question. Most of the really big content curation sites are monetized with ads, some of them being affiliate ads and others straight up ppc, cpm or cpa. I’ve seen very few that monetize by mixing sponsored content/posts into the mix, but I’m sure they’re out there.

      Also, there’s a third option you didn’t mention that can be very effective. When you curate authority-content really effectively in a tight niche, the authority of the content, even though it’s not yours, begins to insure to you. That happens, in part, because of the value you add to the curated content as well. Point being, done well and for the right audience, killer curation can create the perception of authority and thought leadership. And, that’s leverage-able in many different way, like consulting, speaking, writing books and other stuff that comes with being known as an authority.

      • marie-jeanne juilland says:

        So today I see that Jim Kukral and Shawn Collins have launched the unguru.com. Looks like it will be a combo of curated and original content AND curating of products/services.

        Looks like a membership model, and I’m guessing affiliate commissions on products since Jim and Shawn have deep expertise in the affiliate space.

        I think there’s a value to having someone separate the wheat from the chaff in the crazy crowded internet marketing space. If there was a trusted place, I’d go there for advice – and I’d buy even if I knew my trusted source was getting a piece of the action.

        Question is: Will enough other folks be OK with it too for them to make this model work?

        • @marie-jeanne There aren’t currently any affiliate links on Unguru.me – if we do start adding them in there, we will disclose them.

          Both Jim Kukral and me, as well as lots of folks we know in various areas of marketing, get asked a lot of questions privately, and we figured it would be good to have a public venue for these conversations, so they’d benefit more people.

  13. Great post Jonathan and so very true….I know I reposted J.K. Rawlings from your site on my facebook page….it’s all about content….I write inspirational blogs for women so I can only hope I’m providing content to help even 1 woman change her life or the way she thinks.
    http://www.makegirlfriends.com
    Nancy

  14. Hi Jonathan

    Thank you for another thought-provoking article. Nice perspective. I agree with you. Curation definitely has it’s place.

    However, whenever you or anyone else updates me via email with someone else’s content, I always delete… especially when it feels even slightly cross promotional, joint-venture, affiliate, whatever-you-want-to-call-it-this-year.

    I made that mistake last year (updating my list on other people’s content), and lost a lot of my subscribers as a result. I’d found that email updating is a one-to-one personal relationship. The moment I involve a third party in the process, I betray trust.

    The nature of social media is free flowing, public commentary. It’s the perfect place to share curated content.

    So, personally, I think curation is valuable, but will confine telling my “tribe” about curated content via social media and the blog itself… not by email.

  15. Ray Gordon says:

    I agree that curated content is helpful in identifying interesting and relevant sources for readers. I do, however think encouraging people to “go forth and curate” is dangerous territory.

    Jonathan mentioned in one of his comments that his own curated posts tend to be the ones that generate the most activity. The problem with content curation is that since it is an effective way to attract attention, and even a following, not everyone is going to select their material in a responsible manner.

    I’ve seen people build huge followings on Twitter simply by copy pasting every tweet from Mashable and TechCrunch, without adding any value of their own. This isn’t curation. It’s regurgitation. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that regurgitation seems to be an effective method, and as long as it is, people are going to employ it.

    Jonathan did hit the nail on the head though. He spends “a lot of time sourcing, reviewing, vetting and assembling the most valuable content…” Vetting valuable content from time to time makes you a contributor. Indiscriminately blasting someone else’s ideas for your own gain just makes you a news slut.

    In the spirit of curation: “With great power comes great responsibility”

    • This is a great point. As I was reading Jonathan’s post I kept thinking “awesome content curation is HUGE part of social media success.”

      We don’t want the meaning of curation to mutate from its current meaning: active, informed selection. Regurgitation is an automation trick that is short-sighted as a total tactic (automation has its place).

      Curation is also a fantastic way to add variety to your overall message without straying too far off-topic.

  16. Sarah says:

    Jonathan –

    Content curation is another word for editing, and as long as we have producers and creators (writers), we’ll need editors, because so much of the stuff produced is bad. People who edit filter through the stuff and find the most pressing, relevant, or well-written stuff and link it in new ways, giving the reader a break from having to scour throughout the internet.

    You can’t have content curation without original content, first, but I think one of the things the web/internet is missing is great, critical curators who synthesize, connect, and redistribute the best essays and ideas on the web.

  17. Timely post as I recently have begun to realize my value as a curator to my audience. Random comments from a few friends and acquaintances about content I’d suggested that they’d actually used made me realize that even when people don’t comment, they are reading and using stuff I pass along.

    My community is mostly really busy mothers and fathers who have NO time to follow Harvard Business Review for example and find value when I pass along something and explain how it applies to family life or summarize the most relevant piece of a very long article.

    I think it is a both/and. Creating new content is important and there is huge value to a large audience in curation done well and authentically – the two reinforce each other.

    Thanks Jonathan for this post and furthering my thinking about this.

  18. Glynis Jolly says:

    Yes, I’ve done what I call reviews. I summarize what I have read. Give my point of view on it. Put links in to the original article and one other source if I can find it.

  19. Killer post, and excellent points all around, Jonathan!

    I believe a fine balance is the way to go here: mostly original content with tasteful sprinklings of curated content. Or go all-out curated, since mostly curated with a little original would not work as well as the former, I think, because there is a place for all-curated venues for sure!

    Thanks for the ideas, as always!

    Peter

  20. Terry says:

    Jonathan, is it just me or did you just “curate” a bunch of our opinions in one place. The true job of the curator is to create a platform to focus the “idea” and organize the relevant content. For example, imagine a school of plumbing with real plumbers as instructors. They could provide real world, real time instruction with lesson plans proposed by the students. That would be cool. I hope i didn’t stray off course.

  21. Andy Fossett says:

    The curation tendency is something we’re going to be seeing a lot more of over the next few years. In an “information age,” it only stands to reason that this would be an important function, as we can’t possibly hope to consume and assimilate all of the info available to us.

    We simply must aggregate on a higher level, and skilled curators who share our tastes are extremely valuable.

    In many ways, this function is one of the hidden forces of social media. Yes, there is also “the conversation,” but there’s also a lot of sharing, and we trust recommendations, retweets, and “likes” made by people we know.

    Original content, of course, has an important place and role.

    This is clear in science, where new research takes place, then it’s published in journals, then indexed in digests, and finally interpreted in mainstream media.

  22. Jerret says:

    I know many aren’t fans but Drudge is the ultimate curator. And all he does is link to stories! News outlets rely heavily on him for traffic.

    I think it’s definitely harder to gather an audience with a curation model only, but I don’t think it detracts from engagement/interaction. In fact, I get more responses on my curated content than on my regular and guest posts.

    I think it’s because there are so many amazing/exciting stories already out there. I pick the ones that make me say “wow!” and, for the most part, others say wow too.

    And, I think most books are curated content. I love books that have ideas and examples from other people besides the author. An author who writes about only himself can become dull and predictable.

  23. Great curators are valuable because they have their finger on the pulse. Great curation takes skills in scanning, synthesizing, and spinning (the good kind, i.e. “what this means for you”).

  24. Maria Popova says:

    Jonathan, thanks for the kind shout-out. I should point out, though, that the correct URL for my lovely studiomate’s site is swiss-miss.com, not swissmiss.com – and, yes, Tina IS queen of design curation.

    Cheers!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Haha, duly-noted and corrected! Love the value Tina provides, hers is one of the few feeds I actually subscribe to by email! 😉

  25. Deirdre Reid says:

    I do this almost once a week on my blog, my You’ve Got to Read This series. I appreciate when my peers filter content for me so I do the same.

    I’ve also done a few summaries of Twitter chats. It’s a lot easier to read someone’s well-written summary than go through a long hashtag archive with all the RTs and random tweets. Those are some of my most popular posts.

    If an organization doesn’t have the writing talent or time, curating is a great way to fill the gap.

  26. lori says:

    Jonathan, I am an absolute believe in curation “done right”. I’d rather go to a few good blogs where I know they are on top of everything going on and let the experts bring me a 5 star data dinner I can consume and learn from.

    I love original thinking and enjoy a “make me think pos”t as much as the next person, but I also understand what it means to start from ground zero and get Google to even notice you or give you credibility. In the beginning it doesn’t matter how great your content is if just your neighbor, sister and 4th grader read. You have to build a foundation and curating is a great way to “comment” on content at your house, instead of theirs (if that makes sense).

    I can see both sides of the “argument”, but I believe a hybrid model works great if you do it right.

    Unfortunately you have two extremes, the spammers and then others who want to vomit in their mouths when they hear someone actually makes money from blogging – which last time I checked is hard work when “done right” and also if original content, your social capital and in my opinion, the value shared is worth something.

    However, I agree that twitter is a bunch of rinse and repeat noise really serving very few and there has to be a better way that just “rain manning” 140 characters from the same sources.

    Keep up the great thought provoking posts – everyone here is so smart and engaged, I love coming to your “house”.

  27. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ben Wolf, David Ledgerwood. David Ledgerwood said: Is Content Curation Is The New Black? http://bit.ly/gIf4Sz // @benwolf This follows my street team assertion from our discussion […]

  28. Oliver Starr says:

    Really interesting post and even better discussion. As a blogger first (Employee One at TechCrunch back in the day) and curator second (Chief Evangelist for the first collaborative curation community, Pearltrees.com) I think there’s tremendous value to be had in a combination of the two.

    As Jonathan says, you can’t just copy and paste content and call yourself a curator – that’s more plagiarist IMO. You need to think about curation the way a museum does- they may have 5,000 post impressionist paintings in their archives – simply displaying them all, or even displaying a random sampling of them adds little value to an exhibit. This is what makes a curator’s job different and unique. The curator must synthesize the meaning of all these disparate but related objects, distill the collection to a manageable few items that can illustrate a point, tell a story, or quickly educate a visitor, and then once he or she has made the selection, organize the objects in a manner that has a sensible narrative- that puts the pieces in context both within the exhibit and perhaps also within the larger world of paintings in general.

    I think it is difficult for anyone to argue that a curator that does this fails to add substantial value – sure he didn’t create a single piece of unique art, but nevertheless, his or her understanding of the medium provides huge value to anyone else that wants to better grasp it themselves.

    I think it can reasonably be argued that this is also a form or artistry and that these skills when applied to web content have tremendous value- especially given the explosion of content happening now. Personally, I think it’s safe to say that many people would find a curation of posts to have more value if they are well organized than any single post on a particular topic.

    Thus, the value being created with original content may actually be exceeded by the value created by an excellent curator of many articles of original content.

    Once you’ve given in to the idea that curation can add (or create) value I think you need to figure out which curation tools/platforms you are going to use. There are quite a few that have come out over the last several months many of which can be useful provided you understand how to apply them.

    A good selection of these tools as well as information about many of them and even some associated press can be found here: http://bit.ly/eomQOP

    Please note, this list was curated using the Social Curation Platform, Pearltrees.com. Disclosure, I am the Chief Evangelist for the company.

  29. […] Jonathan Fields: Is Content Curation The New Black? […]

  30. Content curation that exists independent of content creation is, by definition, poor practice. By hosting industry-relevant curated content, the skilled curator can capture all dissenting opinions on a particular subject, and create a hub where readers can easily absorb all insight related to a topic. By visiting often, readers can arm themselves with the information needed to create, shape, or feed their own opinions.

    But the curation portal, or hub, cannot successfully exist without clear opinions from the curator.

    A curator that depends only on curated content is akin to a museum curator that knows little about art, or a panel moderator that knows nothing of the subject being presented. Eventually, a curator that does not put forth the effort to express their own opinions (most notably, through the creation of wholly original content) will find themselves host to a portal stuffed with the same empty content that can be found in any untargeted web search. In other words, the exact destination searchers try to avoid by visiting a content curation portal in the first place.

  31. Alex Heil says:

    Hey good post. I think copying and pasting is more like plagiarism to be honest.